I am a qualified BACP accredited counsellor who works independently within a doctors surgery. I love my job as a counsellor. It is highly rewarding and each day is different with it’s own set of challenges.
Apart from being a counsellor, I am also a lone worker. A term that I have found for some reason, is not used very much in this field. However, the words which encapsulate a lone worker are, such as working in isolation, remotely or with vulnerable people.
Within this blog, I want to talk about an incident which I experienced in my training days. This experience changed my thoughts of my safety and protection completely. I was always of the opinion ‘it would not happen to me’
As a trainee counsellor, apart from exams and dissertations, you have to complete a set amount of counselling hours, which are set by the British Association of Counselling Practitioners in order to become a qualified counsellor.
Luckily, I found a placement reasonably quickly with a bereavement charity, which helped the community and its surrounding area. The service the charity provided was to work with clients inside their home. There is nothing wrong with seeing people in their own homes, however, this brings a whole new set of challenges - safety and protection is even more prevalent in the forefront of your mind.
When approaching a new client, my safety was all that occupied my mind. I was trained to know where the exits were in the house, in case I needed to get out. Believe me, this is scary for an experienced counsellor let alone a trainee!
As you can imagine, confidentiality is highly important within this field, so I could not tell anyone where I was going, or who I was seeing. I would have to operate using the brown envelope, which was only to be opened in an emergency, this would provide the location of my whereabouts. Upon leaving, I would have to text my next of kin that I was seeing a client and the duration of that session. Once I had finished, I would text to let my partner know that I was safe. If I had not text within 10 minutes of the proposed finishing time, my partner would call me, the problem is that this session was in the middle of the day. My partner works in a busy office and is not always available, with an added one hour commute, it would be a long time before my partner noticed my problem and was able to access my information location.
There was one instance, which will stay with me forever and one that I have certainly learned from. Immediately, upon seeing this client I felt nervous (and not the usual nerves you have when seeing a client for the first time), my senses were heightened and my gut was telling me something wasn't quite right. For some reason, I felt extremely unsafe.
As a trainee and very new to the placement world of counselling, I put these thoughts to the back of my head and carried on with session. The client seemed to be mentally unstable, the walls were smeared in defecation, the carpet was covered animal droppings and urine, the stench was unbelievable. But, as a counsellor, I remained non-judgemental and professional throughout. I was here to help this client, who had recently suffered a bereavement.
Everything was going well, until the client started to talk about how knives were kept on her at all times in case her abusive ex boyfriend was to knock on the door, as he could turn up at any given time throughout the day, uninvited. At this point, I felt extremely unsafe and my instant reaction was to end the session, but I didn’t know if I would get penalised for this? All I kept thinking was that no-one would know where I was, and when they did know, would it be too late?
So, I carried on until the hour had come to an end and left. Immediately, I called my supervisor from the charity and my 1-2-1 supervisor. In group supervision for the charity, I explained that I felt extremely unsafe visiting this client. However, the supervisor gave great advise and I thought that being so inexperienced, I was just over reacting and my imagination was perhaps on overtime, which is not helpful to the client.
The following week, I returned to see the client. Immediately, she told me that she had been raided by the police the previous evening for drugs. She proceeded to say that thankfully they didn't find anything or the gun that she kept under the sofa!!!!! At this point, I knew I was not over reacting. I was just going to leave, but there was a knock at the door. I was terrified as too who this could be, and I wished that I had a panic alarm that could be raised and sent straight to the charity who had the details of my client.
Thankfully without going into too much of the details, it turned out to be a undercover policeman. Safety was certainly restored, but I could no longer cope with working with this client, I felt that my safety was certainly in danger. I left, telling her that the office would be in contact to arrange the next appointment.
I also left the charity and started working for another bereavement service, which operated from their building. I do not feel that working in other people’s homes was for me, especially without adequate equipment.
I consider myself lucky, because I could have been there at the wrong time, and to be honest that is really something that I do not want to think about. The brown envelope really would not have helped. At the time, I did not know that products such as LONEALERT existed, it was only after this session that I researched into such products.
I still would have ended my sessions with the client, but I certainly would have felt safer and much more protected knowing that someone has my back, with a call centre being able to react quickly if something had have gone wrong. The brown envelope system obviously has no real cost associated with it, but it is also very archiac and certainly if their was a situation where safety was compromised then how exactly could the envelope have helped me immediately?
I hope that someone reading this is able to identify with how vulnerable we are as a counsellor. I love my job, but I do not want to risk my life for it.
*names have not been used in this blog, in order to protect identity and comply with the ethical legislation of the BACP.
Article Code: BLA20155